About This Registration
The Ito Sisters is a documentary film capturing the rarely told stories of the earliest Japanese immigrants to the United States and their American-born children. In particular, the film focuses on the experiences of Issei (or immigrant) and Nisei (or first generation born in the US) women, whose voices have largely been excluded from American history.
At the center of the film are three Nisei sisters: Natsuye (Nancy), Haruye (Lillian) and Hideko (Hedy), who were born on a farm in the Sacramento River Delta and whose lives were directly impacted by some of the most significant events of 20th-century America, from the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 to the Great Depression to World War II. The film also explores the lives of the girls’ parents, Yetsusaburo and Toku Ito, who came to the United States to earn money so they could return to Japan, but whose plans were repeatedly thwarted.
These personal narratives are set against the backdrop of the anti-Japanese movement in California, a 60-year campaign by politicians, journalists, landowners, labor leaders and others that culminated in the evacuation and incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Featuring interviews with the three sisters—conducted in their 80s and 90s—the film is also brought to life through family and archival photographs and documents; verbatim quotes from leading historical figures; commentary and analysis from renowned scholars; and artistic illustrations.
The Ito Sisters reveals a little-known chapter of American history, focusing on life in what was essentially a California plantation system between the world wars, with Asian and Mexican laborers working the fields of white landowners. The film explores themes that remain timely today: the meaning of American identity and citizenship for immigrants and their children; and tensions between new Americans and anti-immigrant forces.
According to director and producer Antonia Grace Glenn, “While there have been several important documentary films that explore the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans, there are few if any films that focus on the Japanese American experience before the war. THE ITO SISTERS chronicles the immigration experience of Yetsusaburo Ito in 1897 and his young wife Toku in 1914, as recalled by their daughters a century later. The insights that the three sisters share about what life was like growing up in a racially segregated farm system in the Sacramento Delta are important, rarely told stories. For example, not many people know that there were segregated schools in California to separate white and Asian children; or the central role that Asian laborers played in establishing California’s agricultural wealth; or that arranged marriages were regularly practiced by Japanese Americans in California.”